Metrojet Flight 9268: Noise heard on cockpit recording just before crash

Egypt is scouring airport video footage in the clearest sign yet investigators believe a downed Russian plane could have been targeted by militants. Meanwhile, British officials say they expect to get 2,000 stranded tourists home within 10 days.

Tens of thousands stranded after Moscow suspends flights amid suggestions ISIS-linked group bombed plane

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      A Russian plane which crashed in Egypt last week was flying on auto-pilot and appeared to break up in mid-air after a sudden noise but it is too soon to conclude exactly what brought it down, the lead investigator said on Saturday.

      Ayman el-Muqadem, head of a team of experts looking into one of Egypt's worst air disasters, said the cockpit voice recording would be analysed to identify the nature of the noise, which Western governments have indicated may have been a bomb.

      Islamic State militants fighting security forces in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula have said they brought down the Airbus A321, which crashed 23 minutes after taking off from the resort of Sharm al-Sheikh one week ago, killing all 224 passengers.

      Fears that the crash was caused by Islamist militants led several Western countries, Russia and Turkey to suspend flights to Sharm al-Sheikh, stranding tens of thousands of holidaymakers and dealing a heavy blow to Egypt's vital tourist industry.

      Muqadem said the auto-pilot was still engaged when the crash occurred and debris were scattered over a wide area of the Sinai desert extending for 13 kilometres, adding that this was "consistent with an in-flight break-up."

      The black boxes recovered from the crash site showed that a "a noise was heard in the last second of the ... recording".

      The recording will be sent to a specialist laboratory for analysis.

      Ayman el-Muqadem, the head of the investigation team on a Russian plane crash last week in Egypt's Sinai, said a noise can be heard in the last second of the cockpit voice recording. (Mohammed El Raai/Associated Press)

      Scientists have used such methods to examine the signature of dying cockpit recordings in aircraft bombings.

      Comparing the frequencies may help determine whether the sound recorded on the Russian jet comes from a deliberate or accidental explosion.

      Muqadem said his team, including experts from Egypt, Russia, France, Germany and Ireland, was considering "all possible scenarios for the cause of the accident" but had not yet reached any conclusion.

      He said structural fatigue, a fuel explosion and even lithium batteries carried by passengers could be a cause. Referring to media reports that Western intelligence sources believe that the plane may have been brought down by a bomb, Muqadem said no evidence related to those claims had been provided to his team.

      Anger at the West

      Sameh Shoukry, who said that foreign intelligence about the cause of the crash had not been passed on to Cairo.

      "The information we have heard about has not been shared with Egyptian security agencies in detail," Shoukry said. "We were expecting that the technical information would be provided to us."

      He suggested countries now flagging the likelihood that militants were behind the crash should have heeded Egypt's repeated calls for coordination to combat terrorism.

      An Egyptian man puts flowers near debris at the crash site of a Russian airliner in al-Hasanah area at El Arish city, north Egypt. In a desolate area of stony ground, little remains from the Russian airliner that crashed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula except its blackened wreckage and a heap of colorful suitcases. (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters)

      "The spread of terrorism, which we have for a long time called on our partners to tackle more seriously, did not get through to many of the parties which are now exposed and which are currently working for the interests of their citizens to face this danger," he told a news conference. 

      Shoukry repeated his government's insistence that it was premature to reach conclusions, but security officials said they were checking video footage at Sharm al-Sheikh airport for any suspicious activity, in the clearest sign yet that they believe the Russian plane could have been deliberately targeted.

      "We want to determine if, for instance, anyone sneaked past security officials or the metal detectors. We are also trying to determine if there was any unusual activity among policemen or airport staff," one of the officials told Reuters.

      Thousands stranded 

      An Egyptian source close to the investigation of the Russian plane's black boxes said on Wednesday the cause of the crash was believed to be an explosion, but it was not clear whether that was the result of a bomb.

      Western intelligence sources have said British and U.S. spies intercepted "chatter" from suspected militants suggesting that a bomb, possibly hidden in luggage in the hold, had downed the plane. The ISIS-affiliated Sinai Province, which claimed it brought the plane down, said it acted in revenge for Russian air strikes against Islamist fighters in Syria, where Islamic State controls large areas in the east and north of the country.

      Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry says countries now flagging the likelihood that an ISIS-affiliated group was behind the crash of Metrojet Flight 9268 should have heeded Egypt's repeated calls for co-ordination to combat militants. (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters)

      On Friday, Moscow suspended flights to Egypt, leaving nearly 80,000 Russians stranded, mainly in the Red Sea resorts of Hurghada and Sharm al-Sheikh, and adding to the growing chaos facing many tourists.

      British attempts to fly home thousands of holidaymakers on Friday ran into trouble when Egypt restricted the number of flights, citing capacity at Sharm al-Sheikh airport and British airliners' refusal to take passenger luggage in the hold.

      British official at Sharm al-Sheikh airport said nine flights were expected to repatriate 2,000 stranded British tourists on Saturday, and the government hoped to get them all home within 10 days.